Counselor’s Corner: Grief and Loss – An Interview with Ashley Turnbull

Valuing, in this life, eventually means you that will face loss.  You will grieve.  Because we care, love, and prize objects of this world, we inevitably will encounter the loss of those things.  Christianity offers a unique perspective — and invaluable resources — when we approach loss.  Our forerunner, the Word made flesh, was a man of sorrows acquainted with grief.  We find comfort as he identifies with our suffering.  We find encouragement by seeing his example in his sorrow.  We also share in his sufferings by entrusting ourselves to God’s future promises.

Over the next several posts, I aim to provide a few resources on the topic of grief.  Because the pain of loss is not discriminatory, we all must walk a path of sorrow at some point.  Even if the Lord has currently led you into ‘broad spaces’ (Psalm 18:19), we might have family or friends who walk a road of deep sadness.  Ashley Turnbull recently had an opportunity to attend a children’s ministry conference this past Spring.  Having attended a seminar on grief, hearing about her experience gives us an opportunity to deepen our understanding of loss.  The following is a brief interview with Ashley regarding a few things she learned.

Earlier in the Spring you had an opportunity to travel and attend a children’s ministry conference.  Tell us a little about that conference.  

The PCA Council on Discipleship Ministries puts on training every year for children’s ministry workers and leaders. This year’s conference was held at Ridgehaven Camp in Brevard, NC. We attend seminars on all types of things related to children’s ministry: safety, programming, curriculum, etc.

You were able to attend a seminar on grief and loss.  Who taught it and what was it about specifically?

Author and speaker Nancy Guthrie was our keynote speaker for the weekend. She has written numerous books and bible studies, including a variety of books on grief. Her own experience is that two of her children died from genetic abnormalities after birth. Both were around six months old when they passed away. She and her husband started a ministry called GriefShare that produces programs and videos designed to help those who have lost someone. Specifically, her talk pertained to how churches can come alongside grieving people.

What did you learn about grief and loss that you plan to apply in your own life?

Nancy gave us a handout with 10 things they would like the church to know about grieving people (see below). One thing Nancy said was this: coming alongside a grieving friend is tough. It’s hard to know what to do and say. It can be awkward. You will feel inadequate. However, her advice is for church members to always err on the side of reaching out. Say something. Do something. Ignore any feelings of awkwardness and be the hands and feet of Christ.

Where do you see the need for that understanding in your contexts?

I think about my role as children’s coordinator and how I come across families who find themselves in various types of grief: those who have lost babies, lost children or not been able to conceive. I also think about parents who have lost loved ones, have strained relationships with their own extended families, or maybe have children that have left the church. There are ALL types of grief, and we as the church want to make sure they do not feel alone. This might mean taking a meal, texting to help with the other children, sending a note or card. But it can also mean that we note the date of the death/loss on the calendar and reach out on anniversaries, Fathers/Mothers’ Day, Christmas. Holidays are hard. Adam and I have a friend who lost his dad unexpectedly this spring; we made sure to call on Father’s Day, knowing it was his first without his dad. Reach out to the spouse or other close friends. Make sure they know that they are also being prayed for. To know that someone is praying for you on that very day that is hard for you is valuable. Nancy was very specific with that idea!

What would you want to communicate to others after having listened to that seminar?

I want to pass along the Griefshare program for those interested. Several local churches put this on at various times during the year. And as I stated above, I want to encourage my church family to reach out to all of those grieving in some way. Grief isn’t always death; it can be any of the things I listed above.  It looks different to different people, but I hope I have given you some ideas of things that may minister to others in our church body. I see this already going on in our body, and I am always learning from so many of our members who to love others well!

What were the 10 things on Guthrie’s handout?

  • Overcome the awkwardness to engage…and keep engaging.
  • Don’t wait for them to call if they need you…figure out what they need and do it.
  • Understand that church is hard when you’re grieving. There is fear of “the ask” and fear of the “no one asks.”
  • Anticipate family pressure points.
  • Make room for tears and sadness…but encourage an expectation of healing.
  • Gently challenge spiritualism and sentimentalism with scriptural truth.
  • Be willing to work through God’s sovereignty in their loss with Bibles open.
  • Keep directing the focus of hope toward resurrection, not merely heaven when we die.
  • Help them turn misery into ministry.
  • Keep preaching and teaching the whole counsel of God.